Wednesday 15 March 2017

Ten out of ten on unconventionalness

7th post in the series applying unconventional tools to procurement challenges - with scores from 1-10 on the weirdness unconventional scale. You'll find more advice on how to get the most from these explorations here. The premise is to use the tools to obtain a different perspective on a situation - one that you're currently unsure what direction to take in. 

Be warned I'd suggest this exploration is a 10/10 so approach with an open mind, and be prepared to be confused a little before clarity emerges. I've certainly not found it an easy topic to explore on my own. 

So let me begin, and let's see what emerges ....

As we returned to the hotel after the walking meeting breakout in Warsaw during a category management workshop I said that walking could be used in other ways to find the solution to problems we encountered.

I've written previously about walks taken to resolve personal life challenges (‘not wanting to burn bridges’ and a more general ‘what next’). Today I want to share a walk to identify alternative strategies for the provision of ‘spare parts’.

This metaphorical walk would generally take place as part of the creative options generation session, ie after an indepth analysis of data has taken place. More here on the need to do this thoroughly, in a post written for a procurement consultancy I'm an associate for.  

As we walked back to the hotel, having discussed earlier in the session about the process to develop more conventional strategies for buying spares, and upon seeing the multitude of cars – parked and being driven -  I said “let's assume the cars are the spare parts”. Due to time constraints the exploration that day didn't come up with a conclusion – so this blog is my response.

Once we've selected the landscape we’re going to use as a metaphor for a challenge we're wanting more insight on, the aim is to then discuss the metaphor without reference to the problem. 

In this instance to discuss how to manage cars in the city without wondering initially what that means in reality for a procurement strategy for spare parts. In fact it's crucial that the real life situation is put to one side whilst the metaphor we've decided to use is fully understood.

From my perspective the aim for cars driven on the Warsaw roads would be to:
  • Efficiently get where they're going
  • Reduce holdups and delays
  • Minimise cost of travel
  • Obtain access to fuel/energy
  • Find adequate parking when needed
  • And to do so safely and sustainably
This could be achieve by:

Efficiently get where they're going
  • Use of well maintained cars
  • Satnav set to efficiency setting
  • Accurate and timely signposts
  • Appropriate use of roundabouts and traffic lights
  • Traffic lights with correct timings to manage traffic flow at different time of day and week
Reducing holdups and delays
  • As above
  • Speedy response to breakdowns on the roads
  • Prohibit parking in some sections of the city
  • Encouraging use of others transportation - possibly even offering park and ride
Minimising the cost of travel
  • Use of efficient cars
  • Effective policy for replacement of cars – assuming fuel efficiency increases as a car ages
Obtaining access to fuel/energy
  • Appropriately positioned petrol startups
  • Conveniently positioned charging stands for electric cars
Don't judge the suggestions just yet – the beauty and simplicity of metaphor is keeping the judgements about what is or isn't applicable or practical to one side. Remember this is a situation we're struggling to find a solution for. I'd suggest stuck because of the assumptions, musts, oughts, shoulds, resistance, fear and / or barriers to change we’re throwing in front of us. That is our current thought processes are what are keeping us stuck and unable to find a solution.

Metaphor allows us to put those doubts and barriers to one side and explore a totally different situation with the belief that once completed some of the solutions found in the one situation can be used on the currently stuck situation.

Yes it feels weird – it is weird – or should I say unconventional but since when has weird or unconventional automatically meantineffective? The first time we do anything new it feels weird, until it's the most natural thing for us to do. Most inventions and innovations are weird at first.

Let's continue ....

Finding adequate parking when needed
  • Do we charge for it
  • It is street parking or via multi story car park
  • What about out of city centre park and ride to reduce traffic in the city
Safely and sustainably
  • Set appropriate speed limits
  • Provide adequate road signage
  • Ensure satnav information re one way streets etc are up to date
  • Ensure drivers have a valid driving licence
  • Provide city driving lessons 
  • Provide fuel efficient driving training
  • Provide road safety police or cameras
Queries then arise about whether it's important to:
  • Reduce the number of manufacturers of the cars used
  • Reduce or restrict the colours of cars driven – or are your cars already just the red ones on the streets? with other colours of cars representing other buying organisations? 
  • Mandate the route taken by drivers
  • Prohibit certain vehicles from certain locations
  • Charge for access by vehicles negatively impacting the environment 
And to consider whether the following are important:
  • The building/offices and shops people are visiting
  • The other vehicles on the road
  • The pedestrians
  • The condition of the road
  • The control centre looking after the traffic lights etc 
If we apply the objective we normally have for spares to the cars then what does that mean to the above thoughts? It seems to be more about how they move about rather than what they are - is that right? Could that be right? What might it be suggesting we do differently?  

I wonder too whether I was too quick to decide the cars were the spare parts? After all the aim of the cars is to get the people where they want to go? Which would bring in other considerations such as:
  • Car sharing
  • Using the subway
  • Using other means of transport – bus, helicopter, bike, and so on
  • Reducing the need for people to come into the centre of the city – which could mean exploring the different ‘why’ for people travelling
  • Exploring the different options for accessing a car - buy or lease or simply rent it daily when needed
Once all the possible ideas about moving cars and passengers around a city centre have been explored then it's time to consider what insight we may be able to offer to the situation we're wanting more clarity on. Having access to the conclusions arising from the research & analysis, and strategic analysis phases will certainly help in being able to do this better. So too having a breadth of category stakeholders involved.

Suggestions might be:
  • Don't worry about the cars just concentrate on the traffic lights – ie what would the control centre for the cities traffic lights be like in the spare parts situation – a centralised delivery or payment process for buying spares
  • Or perhaps the control centre is where the store-men need to be located to ensure they're involved in the movement of the cars 
  • Set up park and rides in the suburbs and bring everyone into the city centre by bus – which might involve centralised distribution for spares
  • Ensure everyone has accurate satnav – ie do the stores managers know who the potential suppliers are 
  • Ensure everyone complies with safe driving standards - ie it doesn't matter who they buy from just as long as certain criteria are met
What I find interesting is this exploration would suggest reducing the make or colours of car are impossible to do. So it's very much about managing the flow of cars better, and getting inefficient cars and unsafe drivers off the road. Does this mean we shouldn't spend time trying to reduce the number of spare parts suppliers? 

Working in a group with this would allow for richer ideas, analogies and solutions. It's not so much about the new options definitely arising from the exploration of the metaphor, as much as following up on any ideas / tangents that emerge as a result of spending time looking at the metaphor.

I'd love to hear from those involved in buying spares to see if this has shed any additional light on the subject.

Other posts using metaphor which were a little easier to understand have used gardening as a metaphor for procurement, and applying thoughts about weather, busses and dancers to procurement talent.  

I'll get back to a 3/10 later this or next week as I continue with the series applying unconventional tools to procurement challenges.

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Unlocking personal, procurement and organisational potential using unconventional tools

Hypertext links take you to posts written on the subject highlighted.

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